August movie reviews: a guide for parents

What's on at the big screen this month? See what movie reviewer, Rob Lowing says about these releases for kids, teens and young adults.


Released: August 24.

Story: Adventure horror. Thrill-seeking Kate (Claire Holt) convinces nervous sister Lisa (Mandy Moore) to try cage-diving with sharks off the Mexican coast. But holiday fun turns into a terrifying fall into ocean depths. Communication is lost with the dive boat and the sharks start circling ….

Language: Four swear words

Romance: Two kisses.

Violence: Attacks, wound images, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Forget toothy Bruce from Finding Nemo: these predators are non-stop nightmares.


7 – 12: Still too scary.

13-plus: If you like shark tales (Open Water; The Shallows), see this textbook example of how to use the classic girl-in-peril set-up for 90 minutes of intense suspense. Thanks to superb photography and ominous techno-influenced soundtrack from Tomandandy, you'll feel you are there. See it on date night or with friends; interestingly, boys turned out in force at one afternoon preview of this girl-led flick. Although the film just scrapes past the Bechdel Test, conversation-wise, these female characters are well-rounded by American movie standards: realistically frightened yet admirably resourceful.

Adult Compatibility: Matthew Modine does nice work as the ambiguous boat captain. The memorable images are best seen on the big screen. Kudos to the film-makers for turning a low-budget concept into a hit at the American box office.

Critic's rating: 9/10


Released: August 17.

Story: Fantasy action based on the book series by Stephen King. American youngster Jake (Tom Taylor) has been having visions of a murderous Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey) fighting a vengeful Gunslinger (Idris Elba). Jake's stepfather thinks he has psychological problems but when Jake uses a portal in a spooky old house to cross into another world, he discovers his visions are real.

Language: Six swear words.

Romance: None.

Violence: Frequent shoot-outs; also, sword attacks, monsters, chases, explosions, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Not for them.

7 – 12: Intrepid quick-thinking Jake is an age-appropriate hero for tweens and none of these monsters are scarier than Lord of The Rings' beasties.

13-plus: Young teens are the prime audience. Although it's impeccably photographed, a rushed-feeling story and short (95 minute) running time means the film is only moderately suspenseful. Best moments come courtesy of author King's trademark flair for haunted-house action; the shoot-outs are efficient but fail to really use the big screen. Luckily, sketchy lead characters are boosted by three excellent actors (there are no well-crafted female roles to speak of).

Adult Compatibility: Leave it for the kids or wait for the television mini-series, starring Elba, scheduled for 2018.

Critic's rating: 5/10


Released: August 10.

Story: American horror movie. A group of orphaned girls and their carer (Stephanie Sigman) move into the isolated Californian mansion of a doll-maker (Anthony LaPaglia) and his disabled wife (Miranda Otto). But when polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her sister (Lulu Wilson) discover a doll in a locked room, the results are devilish. The latest in the Annabelle series; from the director of Lights Out.

Language: One swear word.

Romance: None.

Violence: Blows, knife attacks, falls, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: Hello dolly? No way!

7 – 12: Ditto!

13-plus: Older teens should enjoy this extremely well-made, well-paced horror movie which revels in spooky music (cue the discordant violins) and intense suspense (closing doors!) to make viewers squirm. Otto and LaPaglia offer efficient support but the film is ruled by the immensely sympathetic and gutsy sisters; Ouija: Origin of Evil star Wilson is a stand-out. A tacked-on update and an end-credits scene are potentially confusing. But kudos for rejecting the usual horror movie approach (dollops of gore) and using shadows and suggestion to scare.

Adult Compatibility: Young adults at one preview were jumping (and laughing about it) and talking back to the screen ('Oh, nooooo!') – a good sign that viewers are hooked. Easily and entertainingly passes Bechdel.

Critic's rating: 8/10


Released: August 17.

Story: American heist comedy. Unemployed construction worker Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) convinces his brother (Adam Driver) to rob a NASCAR race. First, they have to spring their explosives expert (Daniel Craig) from prison. With Seth MacFarlane, Hilary Swank.

Language: Twenty swear words.

Romance: Kisses, adult themes.

Violence: Punches, blows.

Ages: 3 – 6: They'll prefer the animated Cars movies.

7 – 12: Despite offering Captain America star Sebastian Stan as an ace driver, all the action happens off the race-track.

13-plus: Teen fans of G.I. Joe and 21 Jump Street charmer Tatum will enjoy his understated approach which adds drama to the comedy; highlights include scenes with his young screen daughter (the very cute Farrah Mackenzie). James Bond movie star Craig is a hoot as the testy thief even if his dumb screen brothers push Southern stereotypes too far. Teens may find the pace more elastic than director Steven Soderbergh's peppy Ocean's Eleven flicks; some accents are indecipherable and the ending feels rushed. However, this is a rare recent crime flick offering action and jokes without gratuitous violence. Riley Keogh and Katie Holmes toughen their conventional Southern belle roles.

Adult Compatibility: Good. Soderbergh was also cinematographer (as 'Peter Andrews'), adding indie movie personality. The result is laidback and likable.

Critic's rating: 7/10


Released: August 10 (selected cinemas).

Story: Modern American murder drama. Wildlife officer Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds the body of a young Native American woman in rural Wyoming. When the FBI assigns inexperienced Las Vegas-based FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to the case, she and Corey could be at the mercy of local predators, human and animal. Directed by the writer of Hell or High Water and Sicario.

Language: Forty-seven swear words.

Romance: Kisses, sexual references, bedroom scene.

Violence: Threats, blows, assaults, shootings, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: No.

7 – 12: Remind them that Renner and Olsen are not in their Avengers: Age of Ultron action fantasy mode.

13-plus: Olsen, youngest of the famous sisters (and the most talented actor), is excellent. But this is Renner's movie, best for older teens who appreciate his soulful-loner presence (which made the dense but hard-working Bourne Legacy a better movie than expected, thematically and financially). Renner adds gravitas, aided by the usual charismatic contribution of Graham Greene, the Native American reservation settings and punchy culture clash themes.

Adult Compatibility: Audiences used to lengthier 'Scandi-noir' (Scandinavian crime) television series may find this story thin. Don't expect any detailed female roles. But the wintery landscapes are stunning on the big screen.

Critic's rating: 7/10


Released: August 3.

Story: Action thriller based on the graphic novel The Coldest City. It's 1989: British MI6 agent Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is behind the Berlin Wall to find a list of Russian spies, which includes the identity of a murderous double agent. Problems? The KGB is determined to kill Lorraine first. With James McAvoy.

Language: Fifty-six fierce swear words.

Romance: Passionate kisses, sex scene, brief nudity.

Violence: Shootings, beatings. Also lethal injury by car, stiletto and a key.

Ages: 3 – 6: Nyet!!

7 – 12: Much stylised, violent, graphic novel imagery, using slow-motion, camera lens-spattering blood and gory close-ups? Double nyet.

13-plus: Aforementioned gore will please older teens. The car chases are well shot; the villains occasionally scary. But a fussy opening slows the pace; too much posing in haute couture leads to a painfully self-conscious encounter with a French agent (The Mummy's Sofia Boutella, muted as clichéd eye-candy). Only midway does the film really utilise athletic Theron, fighting fit after Mad Max: Fury Road's tank-side brawl, and deliver memorable, Bourne movie-ish bare knuckle realism.

Adult Compatibility: Too long, too coldly stylised, to emotionally impact. Adults at one preview laughed between their gasps. Nostalgic viewers will enjoy 1980s hits from The Clash, Depeche Mode and Siouxsie and The Banchees.

Critic's rating: 6/10



Released: August 10.

Story: American war drama thriller. Iraq, 2007: two US soldiers are pinned down by a sniper in scrubby desert near a crumbling wall. As Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) tries to rescue his wounded sergeant (John Cena), he realises the sniper wants more than a simple killing. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity).

Language: One hundred swear words in the first 20 minutes.

Romance: Two sexual references.

Violence: Shootings, gory home surgery, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: No way!

7 – 12: And again!

13-plus: Director Liman doesn't globetrot here but stays put in one dusty location; his movie is a 90 minute slow-boil thriller, bracketed by heart-stopping action (so don't come late or leave early). Older teens will appreciate a classic soldiers-under-fire set-up; Liman's mix of steady close-ups and jittery camerawork – and well-placed plot twists – means this seemingly simple drama will keep older teens hooked.

Adult Compatibility: Definitely worth see by war movie buffs and an interesting companion to UK's Dunkirk: both films drop back-story to focus on immediate action. Wrestling star turned actor Cena is stoic and likable here; the dramatic heavy lifting is done by always terrific Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron; Kick-Ass). Another quality surprise from emerging feature film producer Amazon Studios (Manchester By The Sea).

Critic's rating: 8/10



Released: August 10.

Story: Fantasy adventure romance based on the comic book series. Intergalactic soldiers Valerian (Luke DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) travel to Alpha, a city which is home to thousands of species. The duo must retrieve a rare animal, the last of its kind, but find themselves hunted. Directed by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element).

Language: Four swear words.

Romance: Kisses, marriage themes.

Violence: Laser shoot-outs, crashes, explosions, deaths.

Ages: 3 – 6: While Besson's love of rubbery space creatures is on full display, the story is too intense and the running time (137 minutes) too long for this crowd.

7 – 12: Talented Chronicle star DeHaan channels a tween-appropriate Han Solo, emphasizing the story's Star Wars' influence.

13-plus: Score! Besson delivers an impressively well-lit 3D action romp (which should look even more luminous in 2D). Delevingne lacks true actor's charisma but is more relaxed than her wooden Suicide Squad appearance. The short, un-memorable cameo by singer Rihanna consists of many costume changes and feels designed specifically for the trailer.

Adult Compatibility: Unless you're a fantasy devotee, leave it for the kids. Unlike Fifth Element, there's no Bruce Willis here to provide ballast (and charm) for the adults; support star Clive Owen just looks shell-shocked.

Critic's rating: 7/10


Released: August 5 (weekend screenings and Tuesdays; limited season scheduled).

Story: Animated compilation of two episodes from the Nickelodeon television series. The first episode has Ryder and his six-pup patrol helping a princess reclaim her stolen crown. The second episode sees the gang back at the palace, to catch an armour-wearing ghost. The animated bonus short has smart monster truck Blaze chasing a thief who is stealing all the lights in Axle Town.


Language: None.

Romance: None.

Violence: Blaze has a chase and minor collisions.

Ages: 3 – 6: Picking the right films for a tiny tot's first movie experiences are important. This colourful, friendly, 58 minute compilation is excellent introductory viewing. It does lack singalong songs – apart from PAW's 'Go! Go! Go!' anthem – but Blaze offers fun interactive games where viewers are invited to see where the Light Thief is hiding and count the number of night chickens (chickens who come out at night, of course!). PAW's detecting gadgets and ingenious vehicles will also please. Girl viewers aren't totally excluded: PAW member Skye is an intrepid investigator while mechanic Gabby helps Blaze.

7 – 12: Only for younger fans of the series.

13-plus: Too young.

Adult Compatibility: Brace yourself for pre-show ads flogging toys and apps.

Critic's rating: 7/10



Released: August 19 (weekend sessions and Tuesdays).

Story: Animated compilation of four eleven minute episodes from the American television series. Genies Shimmer (voiced by Frozen star Eva Bella) and Shine (Isabella Crovetti) reclaim a magical gem from the forest, bake 'flying' cookies, ride with unicorns (actually, 'zoomicorns') and meet a mermaid.


Language: Boom-zara-may! Nothing to upset your day!

Romance: None.

Violence: Talk that a scary sea monster might appear (it doesn't).

Ages: 3 – 6: Girl (friend) power, pink and sparkles rule in these non-threatening adventures. The working-together themes are positive; unlike their teen-targeted movie sisters, these pre-pubescent girls are allowed to have friends and talk to each other, scoring a big pass on the Bechdel Test. Less enjoyable are the relentlessly similar body shapes and faces; the girls are also constantly hailed throughout by that insidious American phrase: the robustly non-inclusive 'you guys'. That's confusing for littlies, and annoying for parents who grew up with the more inclusive 'everyone'.

7 – 12: Unlike the retro-chic of the Power Puff girls, or movie Barbie's fashionable princess appeal, this is too young for the over-eights.

13-plus: Too young.

Adult Compatibility: Endure the pre-show toy advertising; this is one of the few girl-led cinema offerings for this age group.

Critic's rating: 7/10

Follow Essential Kids on Twitter